Long Beach Municipal Modernizes Airport While Respecting Iconic Terminal

Jodi Richards
Published in: 

Officials at Long Beach Municipal Airport (LGB) in southern California hope to give travelers an early Christmas present — two new concourses with resort-like amenities and service. The $45 million project designed to provide the “improved passenger experience” includes a new consolidated security screening area, north and south concourses, outdoor spaces and a revamped concessions program with street pricing. Work is scheduled to be complete by the end of the year.

The new concourses are part of LGB’s more sweeping $140 million modernization plan, which also includes a new parking structure, air carrier ramp improvements and modernization of the airport’s historic terminal.

Planning for the program began about 15 years ago, but remained stagnant for about 10 years, explains Mario Rodriguez, who arrived as airport director three years ago. While there was a need to expand facilities at the aging airport, getting the community and airport on the same page proved to be a challenge, Rodriguez elaborates. In the meantime, LGB used trailers for temporary holdrooms because its permanent facilities were simply inadequate.


Project: New Passenger Concourses

Long Beach (CA) Municipal Airport

Cost: $45 million

Size: 89,995 sq. ft.; 11 gates

Project Manager:
Long Beach Municipal Airport

Construction Manager:
Long Beach Airport, with assistance from Mendoza & Associates, Arcadis, Parsons Brinkerhoff and HOK

Architect: HOK

Terminal Programming: HOK

Soltek Pacific Construction Co.

Survey Work: JL Surveying

Testing & Inspection:
Twinings Laboratories

Demolition & Earthwork:
Howard Contracting

Fencing: Alcorn Fence Co.

Paving: Western Paving

Precast Pavers:
Alpha & Omega Pavers

Landscaping: Marina Landscape

Rebar: Rebar Engineering

Concrete Polish:
Mike Payne & Associates

Concrete: A&S Concrete

Structural Steel: T&M Mfg.

Metal Deck: Anning Johnson

Misc. Rough Carpentry:
Tone Framing

Pacific Architectural Millwork

Insulation: Alcal Arcade Contracting

Roofing: Letner Roofing Co.

Sheet Metal: R&J Sheet Metal

Doors: Star Hardware

Glazing & Curtain Wall:
Corona Aluminum

Plaster & Gypsum:
Gypsum Enterprises

Ceramic Tile:
Continental Marble & Tile Co.

Carpet: HM Carpet

Commercial Interiors Acoustics

Painting: Triumph Painting

Toilet Accessories:
Stumbaugh & Assoc.

Signs: Vomar Products

Fire Extinguishers:
BL Wilcox & Assoc.

Boarding Ramps:
Keith Consolidated Industries

Handicap Access Ramps:
Handicap Access Construction

Fixed Seating: Arconas

Fire Sprinklers: N&D Fire Protection

Plumbing: Don Brandel Plumbing

Site Utilities: Blois Construction

HVAC: Sigma Mechanical

Electrical: Neubauer Electric

Low-voltage Security Systems: Commercial Controls Corp.

Low-voltage Communications Systems: Direct A/V

Baggage System: The Horsley Co.

Fire Alarm: Simplex Grinnell

“There was no consolidated vision for the development,” Rodriguez says. Airport management knew something needed to be done, but struggled to develop a “specific vision of what [LGB] needed to be when it grew up,” he explains. As the current management team came into place, it formed a plan and moved it forward.

Traffic projections at LGB are very straightforward. Slot regulations based on noise restrictions limit the airport to 82 air carrier operations per day. With general aviation traffic, that equates to more than 300,000 total operations and about 3.2 million passengers annually.

Feasibility & Flexibility

As is often the case, LGB officials initially faced local opposition to their growth plans. In Long Beach, however, much of the community’s concern swirled around preserving the airport’s iconic terminal and safeguarding its small, easy-to-breeze-through vibe. Cost was an issue, too; so the airport developed what Rodriguez calls a “financially feasible concourse arrangement.” The approach preserves the classic feel of the airport while incorporating a resort-like atmosphere, without raising costs to airlines or passengers, he explains.

The task of designing such a facility fell to HOK, with ample input from airport officials. “The thing that’s very unique about Long Beach, even though they’re really seriously improving their passenger facilities, is they really wanted to maintain the character that their customer base has grown to love,” notes Ernest Cirangle, senior vice president/design principal with HOK.

The new airport layout allows the historic terminal building to remain front and center as the focal point. “It’s kind of romantic and brings back some of the glamour of air travel from years ago,” says HOK Senior Associate/Project Manager Dave Holloway.

Beyond the historic terminal, travelers walk through a 20,000-square-foot meet-and-greet plaza and into the security screening building. Next is an airside garden, where pedestrian traffic splits between the new 25,000-square-foot North Concourse and 13,000-square-foot South Concourse. In total, the airport has 11 gates.

Terminal work is being financed through a general airport revenue bond and passenger facility charges. In addition, Rodriguez expects concessions revenues to far exceed expectations and “cover everything that we need.”

While the new concourses complement the existing terminal building, they don’t copy it. “We didn’t feel it was appropriate to mimic it, but rather to be a simple, clean architecture in its own right,” says Cirangle, AIA, LEED AP.

With a construction cost of about $2.25 million per gate, Rodriguez puts LGB among the least expensive concourses in the United States. The concourses are flexible and scalable, and do not increase the rates to LGB’s airlines, he emphasizes.

“Everything is human-scale,” Rodriguez explains. “We understand one thing clearly: This is a gateway, not a destination. (But) we are providing the most complete, highest-end gateway we can. In other words, we don’t have to build a Taj Mahal with 100 feet of clear span above your head to impress you.”

Investing more capital in the facilities would not be responsible, he says. His firm stance is rooted in the belief that most concourses become functionally obsolete before they reach the end of their design life. “There will be changes in the industry from now until the next 30 years, which is the design life of the building,” he says.

By building as they currently are, officials will be able to modify the facility at will as those changes unfold, he explains. “We don’t have so much intent that we can’t get that accomplished.”

Cirangle says the new facility’s “elegant simplicity” is what allows it to be so flexible. With TSA changing the equipment layout of the new 8,100-square-foot screening checkpoint multiple times — even during construction — the flexibility of the design has already proven beneficial. Flexibility was also incorporated into the checkpoint’s electrical and data infrastructure to allow for future changes or upgrades, notes Holloway.

Long Beach State of Mind

The new concourses were designed to reflect the airport’s goal of providing the highest level of customer service. “It is truly a resort-level experience,” says Rodriguez. Between a wine bar with outdoor seating, a table with a fire pit in the middle and a courtyard filled with palm trees, the new facility provides the indoor/outdoor experience southern Californians are accustomed to. 

“We’re not just looking at moving passengers from point A to point B,” Rodriguez explains. “We want to make sure that the passenger experience is a positive, elevated experience.”

The design takes advantage of Long Beach’s pleasant weather, placing part of the passenger travel sequence inside and part outside. In addition to giving the facility a uniquely southern California atmosphere, the approach contributes to the airport’s green goals, Cirangle notes. “That allowed us to give an actual emotional connection to the environment and to saving energy,” he explains.

Incorporating outdoor space into the design helps create the “sense of place” the airport desired, agrees Holloway. Native drought-tolerant plants highlight the gardens, and a wooden oceanfront-style boardwalk connects the terminal buildings. “It’s all trying to be really indicative of what Long Beach is all about,” notes Holloway, AIA, LEED AP. 

Another unique aspect of LGB’s modernization project is a complete lack of boarding bridges. Officials deliberately stuck with ground loading to showcase the area’s climate and amplify the airport’s “sense of place.” They also help convey the miracle of flight to passengers in a very literal way, says Rodriguez. “It’s so amazing to see people’s reaction to coming out of the aircraft,” he notes.

“Automatically, there’s a sense of place here in southern California. This is reminiscent of when travel was actually leisure — it was fun and classy.”

The decision against installing boarding bridges also had financial perks. At about $500,000 per bridge, plus the additional expense of constructing a two-story structure rather than a single-story building, the change would have doubled the cost of the project, notes Rodriguez. “And it doesn’t make any sense to have loading bridges in a place where you don’t really need loading bridges,” he adds.

Consistent with officials’ goal of delivering stellar customer service in the new facilities, LGB focused on maintaining a high level of service during construction. According to Rodriguez, the airport has spent an “inordinate amount of money” making sure that customers are completely separated from the construction process — including the addition of temporary holdrooms. “It doesn’t serve anybody to ruin the experience with the ultimate goal of improving the customer experience,” he explains.

Turning the Tide

Although the Long Beach community was originally against any sort of airport development, Rodriguez and his team were able to make the $45 million modernization project happen by taking a “prudent, community-centric approach.” In the end, they enjoyed “major community backing,” reports Rodriguez.

“The community loves this airport, because we made them realize one thing: This is their airport,” he explains. “This is the gateway to their community, and it’s very important that their gateway look a certain way, feel a certain way, operate in a financially feasible way and operate in a green way.”

As project architect, HOK assisted with the community outreach program. “The big concern was that it (the new construction) was going to be too big,” relates Holloway. “What people like about LGB right now is that it’s really convenient and it’s a small airport with a lot of destinations.”

The airport and HOK worked to show the community that the modernization program would not create a big airport, but rather improve the existing facility through additional concessions space and other amenities.

“Everything we produce has got to have a very good rate of return,” Rodriguez adds. With a cost per enplaned passenger of $6.50, LGB is in a good competitive position without burdening the facility and its partners with unnecessary debt, he notes.

Fiscally Prudent Green

The new concourses were designed to align with the airport’s guiding vision of sustainability, and silver level certification from the Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) program is being sought.

“Sustainability is to be efficient and do more with less,” Cirangle says. “Getting this design down to its essence and simplest form (made the facility) inherently sustainable.”

Rooftop solar panels are expected to offset 13% of the concourses’ power usage. Low-flow and no-flow bathroom fixtures are projected to save about 2 million gallons of water annually.

The addition of a new parking garage will eliminate more than $1 million per year in shuttling costs while also improving the customer experience, Rodriguez notes. Airside, taxiway lights are being replaced with LEDs at a projected savings of about $160,000 per year.

Other green aspects of the project include a central garden; energy-efficient lighting; glazed windows to maximize lighting; an energy management system that capitalizes on natural sunlight; drought-tolerant landscaping; polished concrete floors that don’t require another layer of decorative flooring; and use of local and recycled construction materials.

Importantly, the airport’s sustainability initiatives are being carried out in a financially intelligent way, notes Rodriguez. “We’re not doing green just for the sake of green,” he explains. “Everything we do saves money or enhances our bottom line, which in turn enhances the bottom line to the airlines and, in turn, gets trickled down to the passengers.”

Outsourcing Advocates

Managing the municipally owned airport like a private-sector business is one of Rodriguez’ central philosophies. And to do so, he believes in focusing on LGB’s core competence: running an airport. Other aspects, such as installing and maintaining solar panels, are contracted out to specialists.

Along the same vein are the airport’s flight information display, baggage information display and gate information display (FIDS/BIDS/GIDS) systems. LGB will not purchase the screens or computers to operate the system; it will contract the service, including equipment and maintenance, from a yet-to-be named provider. In-airport advertising will be handled in a similar fashion.

“We had time to revisit what we do and what we do well,” Rodriguez explains. “Maintaining FIDS/BIDS/GIDS screens, we don’t do well. Maintaining solar panels, we don’t do well either. So why increase the amount of staff at the airport to do these tasks that airports normally don’t do well?”
He views Sony as a cautionary tale. After years of moving away from its core competency, Sony is moving back toward what it knows and does best, he explains. 

“We’re trying to do things more in the lines of Corporate America, and it’s starting to work for us very well,” he reports, citing the airport’s bottom line and 20% increases in revenues over the last three years. “We believe we should be efficient; we should be business-like.”


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